Conservation committee could remove restrictions

New rules for sea trout, redfish and shark and a controversial method of harvesting spiny lobster are among the highlights of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting Wednesday and Thursday in Key Largo.

Commissioners are expected to consider eliminating recreational closed seasons for sea trout throughout the state, as well as lengthening the commercial fishing season from three months to five months and creating a bycatch allowance of 75 trout for commercial fishers using haul or beach seine nets.

For redfish, commissioners are expected to vote on a final rule to raise the bag limit from one fish to two per person in the northeast and northwest regions of the state.

A final vote is expected on a new shark rule that would prohibit all harvest of scalloped, great and smooth hammerheads and tiger sharks in state waters.

Commissioners will hear a presentation from scientists on a two-year study of using casitas to catch spiny lobster in the lower Keys. Casitas, or “little houses” in Spanish, refer to artificial structures placed on the sea bottom to attract bugs so they can be harvested by divers. The practice has been outlawed since 2002.

The study of more than 1,000 of the illegal artificial reefs on the edge of the Gulf in the lower Keys, conducted by John Hunt of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Research Institute in Marathon, showed they do not affect the creatures’ natural movement patterns. However, the structures were found to increase the catch rate during the first month of the lobster harvest season in August, shifting landings away from trappers to commercial divers.

Commissioners might decide to pursue a proposal to legalize and regulate casitas, or they could scuttle the idea altogether.

The meeting will be held at the Key Largo Grande Resort and Beach Club, 97000 Overseas Hwy.

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